After a fast start by Adrian Peterson this game descended in to somewhat of a farce. The Minnesota Vikings capitalized on early errors by the Arizona Cardinals to establish a big lead and for the first time this season the Vikings kept hold of a double digit half time lead.
However it’s the performance of both team that raises the most pertinent questions, particularly as we try to decide whether Minnesota actually held the lead or Arizona were simply too inept to reel the Vikings in. As well as the Vikings’ defense played, they weren’t exactly challenged by a Cardinals’ offense displaying the issues which have become their hallmark.
Indeed it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that by the end of this game both teams seemed to be firmly in reverse. Still, it provides plenty of ammunition when it comes to focusing on some individual performances.
Arizona – Three Performances of Note
1. The hurt continues at tackle
Just how long can the Cardinals continue to throw their quarterbacks out there with Levi Brown (-6.4) playing tackle? After Brandon Keith failed to replicate his better performances from 2010 to start this season he was unceremoniously dumped in favor of Jeremy Bridges (-5.9), who fared no better against Brian Robison in this game. These struggles at tackle are nothing new for the Cardinals but continuing to turn a blind eye to these issues won’t do them any good. With Kurt Warner under center they had a QB with an innate feeling for pressure similar to that of Peyton Manning. Someone who could cope with pressure and still make plays. But they no longer have that and for the past two seasons this has crippled the Cardinals’ offense. This season Arizona offensive tackles have now conceded nine sacks, three hits and 36 pressures. Kevin Kolb has been a disappointment but behind these tackles is he getting a fair chance?
2. A lack of command, a lack of momentum
The quality of passing on both sides was a massive disappointment in this game but Kolb (+0.1) was more disappointing for the simple reason that he missed on a number of easy throws that could (it’s a long shot but they could) have sparked the Cardinals back in to life in the first half. If something summed Arizona up, it was one long drive in the second quarter. While they sustained the drive, it was one of those drives that drags on and on, due to missed throws by Kolb, rather than a game controlling drive to swing momentum. Kolb was downgraded for two throws on this drive, one of which (5:52 in the second) had the potential to put some momentum into the Arizona drive and propel them into scoring range. The Vikings’ LBs failed to pick up Rob Housler on the play and Kolb failed to hit him wide open. This wasn’t an isolated play as Kolb went 6/15 on intermediate throws (between 10 and 19 yards downfield) and his accuracy, or lack thereof, was the biggest reason for Arizona’s failings on these throws.
3. A bright spot in the secondary
Amongst the swathes of poor play from both sides, one bright spot shone in the Arizona secondary and that was A.J. Jefferson (+3.7). Jefferson provided a spark in both run and pass defense, only being downgraded twice for two first down receptions, one each for Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu. However aside from those two plays Jefferson had an excellent day in coverage, and in registering three stops in run defense Jefferson was particularly impressive with his tackling in space. A stop on Adrian Peterson, when the Vikings’ three tight ends had made solid blocks to spring Peterson off left end with just Jefferson in his way, was particularly impressive. Jefferson stood up to the challenge (Q4 6:02) to bring Peterson down for a 2 yard gain on 2nd and 4. Throw in a couple of pass defenses and the Cardinal will be very happy to see more of the same from Jefferson.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
1. Feasting on the edge
You can’t say that the Minnesota defensive end pairing of Brian Robison (+3.1) and Jared Allen (+7.5) don’t capitalize on golden opportunities. Coming in this game was always likely to be a mismatch whoever the Cardinals’ lined up at tackle against the terrible twosome and the results didn’t disappoint. Together they combined for four sacks, one hit and eight pressures. They also added three stops in the running game and Allen also knocked a pass down in pass rush. As expected, the Arizona offensive tackles couldn’t contain these two one on one. Robison beating Bridges off of the edge to sack Kolb and force a fumble as he tried to throw at 8:22 in the first was the sort of play that helped the Vikings get the fast start that allowed them to coast to victory. Unlike the offense though these two didn’t take their foot off of the gas, as they were just as disruptive in the second half (2 SK, 1H, 4P & 1BP) as they were in the first (2 SK, 4P & 1 FR).
2. Controlling the right side
This game saw a welcome return to form for Phil Loadholt (+4.7) who put in the highest graded display of his three year career. Against the pairing of Darnell Dockett and Clark Haggans, a duo who have started the season strongly makes the performance by Loadholt look all the more impressive. He yielded only one pressure to Haggans late in the second quarter and had the measure of Dockett all day in the running game. Whilst he never had that one special highlight reel play, the consistency with which he was able to seal and control Dockett was impressive. Loadholt graded positively whilst blocking Dockett five times, with Dockett only getting the better of Loadholt once. The Vikings averaged 7.0 yards per carry on eight rushes either side of Loadholt, rushes off right guard and right tackle.
3. McNabb continues to disappoint
A week after his best game of the season in a losing effort to Kansas City, Donovan McNabb (+1.1) returned to his extremely disappointing form against the Cardinals in his first win as Vikings’ starting quarterback. McNabb completed only 50% of his aimed passes and even though two passes were dropped that doesn’t excuse the fact that, with only one downfield shot, his inaccuracy was the root cause of most of his incompletions. This game may be a real blip of a low point, in an already poor season, but there were some atrocious incompletions in this game. Short hopping a pass to a wide receiver screen at the start of the fourth quarter and underthrowing Visanthe Shiancoe on a release to the right flat were lowlights of an extremely poor display by McNabb. If Christian Ponder is deemed to be ready at some point this season and Minnesota want to judge whether they should be looking at Andrew Luck in the 2012 NFL Draft, McNabb is currently giving them more reasons to take a look at Ponder than to keep him wrapped in cotton wool on the sideline.
● When Daryn Colledge left the game through injury he was replaced by D’Anthony Batiste (+0.2) for the final 40 snaps. Batiste looked, along with Rex Hadnot (+1.8), the most solid of the Arizona linemen.
● Erin Henderson continues to take the nickel snaps ahead of his brother EJ who only played 24 snaps this week, his lowest snap count in the last four seasons.
● McNabb’s short passing was abysmal; he went 4/10 for 34 yards on passes aimed between zero and nine yards downfield. His PFF grade for those 10 throws was -1.5.
PFF Game Ball
A.J. Jefferson, CB, Arizona Cardinals
While mediocrity reigned around him, A.J. Jefferson stepped up with an impressive game in both run support and pass coverage. To date Jefferson is outshining the Cardinals’ first round pick, Patrick Peterson.
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